Earthjustice logo

This opinion piece was written for Earthjustice and is reprinted here with permission.

In this line of work, we are lucky to meet and work with a lot of heroes, people who stand up against all odds for the health of their communities, who sacrifice for the greater good of their brothers and sisters. Judy Bonds of Marfork, West Virginia was a hero among heroes, an extraordinary leader and an indomitable spirit. Today, we mourn her passing, and with that, the loss of an inspiration, a warrior and a visionary for the movement to abolish mountaintop removal mining and protect communities from poisonous coal mining pollution. 

We at Earthjustice started working with Judy in 2003, just before she won the prestigious Goldman Prize for her courage and accomplishments in the fight to stop mountaintop removal mining. She was the firebrand leader of a scrappy community organization called Coal River Mountain Watch (CRMW) that at the time ran on the sheer grit and will of a band of big-hearted volunteers, with Judy as their fearless director. When she received the Goldman Prize, she used the prize funds to launch CRMW as a full-time nonprofit organization, and they came to Earthjustice for help in bringing their fight from the coalfields to America’s courts.

Judy could always be counted on to cut straight to the heart of the matter with a colorful turn of phrase that was singular and persuasive. She kept a hard line and railed against compromise when it meant that her neighbors and community would suffer. She pushed us, her partners and her friends to keep a hard line, too, and to resist negotiating away protections for her fellow Appalachians. Judy also saw to it that environmentalists didn’t get so bent on cutting global warming pollution through new methods of carbon sequestration that they ignored the problems of mining coal. “I don’t care if it’s marshmallows coming out of those coal stacks,” she said. “As long as you’re mining and burning coal, it’s a problem for me and my family.” She fought for her people and inspired us to fight harder, too.

And she did this all in the face of great adversity. She stood proud and tall when people in favor of mountaintop removal threatened her life, when they struck her, and when they slung hateful words at her. As she stood her ground under these circumstances, we were fortified in our commitment that the fight to abolish mountaintop removal is too important to give up on.

More than anything, Judy was determined to open America’s eyes to the human injustices of mountaintop removal mining. She spoke about the greed and corruption of the coal companies dumping their mining waste in her state’s waters, contaminating water supplies and sickening mostly poor people with their pollution. She made many see that this type of mining is not just a crisis for the environment, it’s a crisis for people—and that the people of Appalachia deserve the same protections as other Americans.

 “It has taken a lifetime to fit together the pieces of the puzzle,” she wrote in 2006, “that the people who exploited Appalachia—the coal and land barons—stereotyped us in order to justify the treatment of my people—to make us the ‘national sacrifice zone’ for America’s cheap energy.” Through her work she showed us, in the words of the great Martin Luther King, Jr., that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.  

Though we have lost one of our greatest heroes and leaders, we must press on. Today, our fight continues. Thank you, Judy, for all you have done and taught us. We will fight harder.